Four: Breathing Space

Rider-Waite-Smith Borderless

In the Major Arcana, the card numbered 4 is The Emperor. The Emperor represents structure, stability and leadership. It also represents having good boundaries and being able to stick up for yourself. When we look at the Four of Cups and the Four of Pentacles we can see that kind of imagery quite strongly. 

Think about the last time you had too much on your plate and had to say no to somebody or to something. Even if you really wanted to help, or were excited by the project or idea, you just couldn’t manage it. 

You’ll see a lot of people in the business of ‘positivity’ telling you that you should say yes more, that only good things will happen. This is an aspect of something called Toxic Positivity. You might have heard of this term, or you might be thinking ‘wait, what, how can positivity be toxic?’

If you strive to avoid suffering, you will feel worse when inevitable suffering comes your way. You feel like a failure, that you’re not trying hard enough. There are of course ways to reduce pain in the various parts of our lives, but sometimes, you have to just sit with it and let it pass on its own. 

Anyone who has struggling with mental ill health will know that when people tell you to just cheer up, it doesn’t magically cure you. It is a form of erasure and ableism to deny someone their lived experience. That’s why shaming someone for not being able to adhere to ‘positive vibes only’ is counterproductive and harmful. 

Similarly when you take on everything and never say no, you are bound to get burned out. Sometimes it is time to take a break and just do nothing.

Some people really struggle to do nothing, because that’s when the painful thoughts and feelings start coming in. You get restless and want to do something just to take your mind off of everything you’re repressing. It’s hard, but try to sit with those feelings, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Don’t dwell on them and don’t push them away. If it helps, write down what you’re thinking. 

Understand that as you learn to see yourself through these difficult thoughts, they will loom less, and you will be better prepared for dealing with hard times further down the line. 

Let’s have a look at what we can learn from these four cards.

Four of Wands: This card is about appreciating what you have right now. Have you ever heard of a depth year? It’s this idea that you should take a year where you don’t buy anything new for your hobbies, you don’t learn new things, only improve on what you already know. Started to learn guitar a few years ago and lost steam? Pick that up again rather than get the ukulele you’ve been eyeing up in the local music store. Read the pile of books you bought ages ago that you never got around to. 

The people in this image are celebrating. This represents reflecting on everything you’ve achieved so far and feeling great about that, rather than thinking ‘what’s next?’

Four of Cups: The person in this card looks very apathetic. They don’t notice, or don’t feel up to accepting this fourth cup they are being offered. There’s something called Autistic inertia which can be really difficult to deal with. Even doing things you enjoy like your hobbies, or basic everyday things like eating, become a slog and you can’t make yourself get up to do them.

Alternatively, maybe you just don’t want that fourth cup, you don’t need it. Being able to stop before you get in over your head is a really good skill to have. Be aware of your limits, don’t run out of spoons.

Four of Swords: I’ve heard that some people see this character as someone who has died. They almost look like they’re made of stone. To me, that’s how it can feel sometimes when you’re so burned out, you can’t even get out of bed. You’re stiff and can hardly open your eyes. Sometimes you’ve had so much going on lately, you haven’t even processed it all yet. If you pull this card, it might be time to take a mental health day off work, or take some time to just take care of basic things like eating and sleeping until you feel a little more energetic again. 

Four of Pentacles: Traditionally, this card represents a miser. He is protecting his pentacles, his wealth. Maybe he’s being too materialistic, or maybe he just has boundaries and has been giving too much lately. This card can represent self-care. 

Think about the word ‘selfish’. It’s too often misused. According to Oxford Languages, selfish means:

(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

An action is selfish if by doing it, you profit, and don’t care about anyone else. But colloquially, we often call someone selfish for doing something for their own good even when it doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. I don’t think that’s selfish. It’s okay to prioritise yourself sometimes. So long as no one is hurt, you’re allowed to protect yourself. It’s up to you whether you think your motivations are good or not, so if you pull this card, take a moment to think about the difference between being miserly and selfish, and looking after yourself in a healthy way. 

 

Three: Community and Growth

Top left: This Might Hurt, Top right: Sasuraibito, Bottom left: Star Spinner, Bottom right: Modern Witch

When you pull a Three in your tarot reading, it’s really asking you to open up and invite other people into your life. It’s all about community, groups, and about learning to grow and develop your creativity. As John Donne wrote:

No man is an island

Later in that same poem he writes:

any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

How can you involve yourself in your community, and the wider world, in a way that is positive for yourself and others?  How can you experience personal growth when you’re a bit burned out trying to do it all alone? The stories represented in these four cards show us how these ideas can play out.

Three of Wands: In the Three of Wands we see someone who has been working hard on something at their desk. They take a moment to look out of their window and see boats sailing by. This moment represents a turning point. You’ve done some hard work and now you’re ready to put it into the world. Will it resonate with anyone? Where will this project take you next? You feel accomplishment for what you have done so far, but you are not close to the finishing line yet. It might be time to ask for creative input from other people, or to get inspiration from other sources. Take a break from planning, and do something practical. 

Three of Cups: This card really speaks to the joy of having people in your life with whom you can share affection. The Three of Cups represents celebrating with others, supporting each other, and helping others in your life to achieve what they want. Perhaps you have a friend who has been working on something and you could signal-boost them on social media. if you pull this card, reach out to your friends and loved ones to see how they are doing. Alternatively, if you are having a hard time, now is the time to seek help and support from others. You don’t have to go it alone.

Three of Swords: This is a painful card to look at. Three swords stick like skewers in a heart. In many decks, this can be quite a gory image. The Three of Swords represents heartbreak and grief. It can be a very cathartic card. rather than push those feelings of loss and sorrow away, accept that pain. If you have lost a loved one, focus on the happy times you had with that person, and eventually that sadness will be transformed into a bittersweet love. Again, this card speaks of community. Don’t suffer alone, allow other people to share in your grief. 

Three of Pentacles: I am reminded of card 3 of the Major Arcana, The Empress. There’s this nurturing energy of self-expression, a proud vulnerability. This card represents teamwork, so put yourself out there, advertise all your strengths and talents, and put them to work where they are needed. This card asks you to consider if there are groups you could join to further your career or business opportunities. If you are struggling alone with something, admit that you can’t do everything, and bring in someone else to help. If you can share and delegate work, it will be completed much more efficiently. 

What do you think when you see a Three card?

Two: Yin and Yang

Taijitu

A taijitu, commonly known as the yin and yang symbol portrays two opposing forces held in balance. You can see in the dark half, there is a little light, and in the light part, there is a little dark. It shows how everything is connected, and that differences are only surface deep. This symbol is not only found in China, but was also depicted in Roman and Celtic art. What else does the number two evoke?

The number two implies duality, balance, exchange. It could represent a relationship between two people, or having to make a choice. Looking back at the Major Arcana, the card with the number two is The High Priestess. We talked about how she can represent seeing the difference between how you perceive a situation versus how someone else might see it. On a surface level, the number two does not allow for very much nuance. As you can see from the symbol above, there are no shades of grey with the number two. When we look at the Two of Swords, we see how that can be an issue.

From left to right: Modern Witch, Sasuraibito, This Might Hurt, Star Spinner

Two of Wands: The two wands surround the woman in this card like a doorway or a gate. She looks out as if she is contemplating what to do next. She looks almost bored, fed up of what her life is like just now. The Two of Wands tells us to combine that fiery wands energy with a plan and some solid decision making. In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the card, the character is holding a globe in his hand. He can do anything, go anywhere, but must ensure he can follow through and not impulsively follow whatever comes along first. 

Two of Cups: This is a sweet and vulnerable card. It can represent beginning a new relationship, or having some kind of deep and emotional exchange with someone else. That could be in the form of therapy, or maybe a close friendship. As the number two represents balance, and cups represents emotion, this card could be reminding you to keep an eye on your feelings. In a new relationship, you don’t always notice red flags, for example. If you struggle with your mental health, take a moment to recall if you’ve been feeling particularly down or especially up recently. Be mindful of how you can create balance in your emotional life.

Two of Swords: In this card, a woman is blindfolded, but this doesn’t seem to be forced upon her. It is like she herself does not want to see what her options are. She doesn’t want to make a decision. Maybe she is only seeing two options, when there could be many more. She may be struggling with black-and-white thinking. The way she holds those swords is like she is defending herself. If someone were to approach her to help, she might lash out. Swords represent thoughts and intellect, so if you draw this card, consider if you might be overthinking a situation. Try to get another perspective before dooming yourself to either picking the bad choice or the less bad choice. 

Two of Pentacles: Pentacles represent mundane and practical matters. This card can represent work-life balance. It reminds us to manage our time appropriately so that we don’t become overwhelmed. How can you balance your priorities so that nothing is neglected? Is that even possible? If not, this card may be asking you to make a choice. What can you give up so that your life is more balanced? You might be able to keep all the plates spinning right now, but how sustainable is that?


What do you think when you see the cards above? Are there aspects of your life that need more balance? It is always worth taking time to re-evaluate your priorities so that you are living life, not just existing. 

Ace: It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this

Mac the cat examining the Aces

Have you ever felt a spark of excitement when you begin something new? Maybe you felt that way when you began learning tarot, or starting a new relationship or career path. The Ace cards represent a new start, planting a seed, potential. They’re similar to the energy of The Fool, there’s a journey ahead. 

There is so much possibility in the Aces. You can see a hand reaching out, offering the element to you like a gift. It’s exciting but also in a way, it leaves you with a lot of responsibility. What do you want to do with this wand, cup, sword, or pentacle that you are being handed? Each element rules a different part of life.

Ace of Wands

The wands suit is all about that fire burning inside you. What gets you going, motivates you. The Ace of Wands asks you to say yes to whatever that passion is. Wands represent the element of fire, so be careful to control that flame and don’t let it consume you. Light that wand and let it guide you. If you pull this card, think about what inspires you. Journal or meditate ways in which you can use passion and power to begin a new project, or maybe come back to something you’ve neglected.

Ace of Cups

The Cups suit rules water. It’s all about emotion and intuition. Again, this card represents new starts, but those related to relationships, love, and feelings. Think of it as an opportunity for emotional growth. Maybe you’re starting therapy, or confronting a trauma for the first time. Don’t be afraid to dive deep, but remember not to wallow. The cup in the imagery is overflowing, and of course those feelings can be positive, but it’s equally possible to be drowned in negative emotion. If you pull this card, be receptive to change and open your heart. 

Ace of Swords

The suit of Swords rules air and deals with some difficult parts of life. But the Ace is all about piercing through illusion and being perceptive. It’s about using your intellect to find new perspectives. Studying, teaching, writing, planning, these are all great ways to use the Ace of Swords. Think of the potential of a sword. You can use one to be a hero and save the world, or you can use it to hurt and oppress others. The element of air is often associated with communication, so think about the ways you use your words. Are they sharp and cruel, or truthful and fair. You have the choice of how you use this power.

Ace of Pentacles

Pentacles is earthy and grounded. It’s about nature, work, abundance, and stability. It’s much more practical than some of the other elements. Rather than jumping in without thinking, this Ace asks you to think about how you can build your best life. It can seem mundane, but it can represent things like getting a new home or job, being able to provide for yourself. It can be a long and arduous journey, so if you pull this card, be patient and focus on hard work. Think of gardening, where you plant a seed and watch it grow for many months before it bears fruit. 

 

The Four Suits of the Minor Arcana

If you would like to see clearer images of each card, please take a look at this Wikipedia article.

The Minor Arcana make up the majority of a typical tarot deck. There are 56 cards, divided into four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Each suit goes from ace to 10, and then has four court cards. These are Page, Knight, Queen, and King. If you take out one court card from each suit, you can use the Minor Arcana as a deck of playing cards. 

It may seem overwhelming to learn the meanings of each of these cards, but I’m going to try to categorise them to make it easier. Each suit has a meaning, and each number, ace to 10, page, knight, queen and king has a meaning. You can combine these to greatly reduce the memorisation needed. This will make more sense later, so please don’t worry if you’re confused just now. Also remember that the Minor Arcana tend to represent more mundane matters than the Major Arcana.

Here’s what we’ll do. Today we will talk about what each suit represents. In the next lesson, we will go over the meanings of each ace. Then the next lesson, each two and so on. Then once we have learned from ace to 10, we will explore the court cards of each suit starting with the page, knight, queen and king of wands. That means that including this lesson, there will be 15 posts about the Minor Arcana. I think that will be less overwhelming than you having to read 56 separate blog posts.

So, wands, cups, swords, pentacles, what’s that all about? Well, each one represents one of the four classical elements, fire, water, air, and earth. 

Wands: The Suit of Wands represents the element of fire. It’s the essence of life, that fiery energy that motivates you. It’s a creative spark, confident and determined. Think of willpower and movement when you see a wands card. It can be impulsive and hard to control. 

Cups: The Suit of Cups represents the element of water. Think emotions, love, and relationships. Think of harmony and healing. It’s adaptable, but it can be a bit fantastical and vague. Overflowing emotions can be disruptive and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Sometimes called ‘chalices’.

Swords: The Suit of Swords represents the element of air. Air is all about intelligence and rationality. It’s skeptical and powerful, cutting through illusion. This suit has some of the most painful cards in the whole tarot deck. This suit represents pain, anger, and conflict. 

Pentacles: The Suit of Pentacles represents the element of earth. It’s often associated with work and money. Earth is all about the physical world: think of a tree with its roots deep in the ground, stable and nurtured. This suit is often associated with prosperity and working with your hands. It can be a bit materialistic. Sometimes called ‘coins’.

The tarot is all about balance, and this is clear when you put the qualities of all four elements together. Too much or too little of any of these concepts is unhealthy, and by exploring how those ideas play out in each card can help you to make decisions in your own life. 

As a fun addition, I’m reminded of ikigai. It’s this idea that what you should do in life is an intersection of four things, what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you’re good at:

 

Source

I see what you love as being similar to the ideas in the wands suit, what the world needs as similar to the cups suit, what you can be paid for as the pentacles suit, and what you are good at as the swords suit. Using this framework, it is clear how important it is to balance all these ideas to live a happy and fulfilling life. Do you think you’ve found your ikigai? 

I hope you’ll join me next time when I talk about the ace cards in each suit.